NHL.com is providing in-depth analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, three important questions facing the Dallas Stars.
1. Can Jamie Benn boost his production again?
The 31-year-old forward scored 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) in 69 games last season, his lowest total since he scored 33 points (12 games, 21 assists) in 41 games in 2012-13.
It was three seasons ago when Benn scored 79 points (36 goals, 43 assists) in 82 games. The Stars will need him to get back to that level, especially with forward Tyler Seguin expected to need four months to recover after having right hip surgery on Nov. 2.
The NHL has targeted Jan. 1, 2021, as the start date for this season.
“He’s a tough guy to gauge by points only,” Dallas general manager Jim Nill said of Benn. “He brings so many different elements. There’s the physical presence he brings, the leadership presence he brings. There are not a lot of guys around the League who demand respect when he’s on the ice more than Jamie Benn, and that’s from a skill point of view and from a physical point of view. He’s not a fun guy to play against. So there’s a lot of value other than points, but I think he is going to bounce back.”
2. Can Anton Khudobin handle the workload with Ben Bishop out?
Khudobin stepped up in the postseason for the Stars, taking over as the No. 1 goalie and helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final. With Bishop expected to need four months to recover after having right knee surgery on Oct. 21, Khudobin will have to bear the brunt of the work.
Khudobin made 13 straight starts in the postseason after Bishop was injured but has never made more than 37 starts in an NHL season (2018-19). The 34-year-old was 14-10 in the postseason with a 2.69 goals-against average, .917 save percentage and one shutout in 25 games (24 starts) after he was 16-8-4 with a 2.22 GAA, NHL-leading .930 save percentage (among goalies with at least 25 games played) and four shutouts in 30 games (26 starts) during the regular season.
“If you would have told me at the start of the [postseason] that we’d lose our No. 1 goalie and our 1B goalie or whatever you want to call [Khudobin], who’s never played a playoff game would take us to the Stanley Cup Final, I’d say odds are against you,” Nill said. “We’re very confident he can step in and be a No. 1 guy.”
3. Will Miro Heiskanen continue to raise his game?
The 21-year-old defenseman scored 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 68 games in his second NHL season, and scored 26 points (six goals, 20 assists) in 27 postseason games, best among defensemen and third behind Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov (34 points) and Brayden Point (33).
The speedy Heiskanen shows the poise of a veteran and has good chemistry with Jamie Oleksiak on Dallas’ second defense pair. The Stars are expecting Heiskanen to get even better.
“We’re a team off the map to a lot of the other media out there, and I think it was kind of a coming out for him [in the postseason],” Nill said. “People started to realize who this guy is, and he showed he can play any game he wants. When you look at his age, and especially the position, you look at defensemen, marquee defensemen usually don’t hit their peaks until they’re 26, 27. So I think there’s more growth there.”